Seton Hall clamps down on Hawai’i, 64-54, advances to Wooden Legacy final

A day after riding 40 points from Myles Powell, Seton Hall’s defense pushed them over the finish line in a gritty 64-54 win over Hawai’i in the Wooden Legacy semifinal.

The first half was played in the 20s and set the tone for a game that lacked fireworks except for a pair of dagger Powell (19 pts, 4 rebs, 4 asts) three-balls late in the second half; the Trenton native registered his 1,000th point tonight.

Instead it was Taurean Thompson (8 pts, 4 rebs) who built off of Grand Canyon to impress early before getting in foul trouble, and then fellow forward Mike Nzei (16 pts, 6 rebs) picked up the slack via a series of nifty buckets in the paint.

Leading by just 25-23 at the half, it wasn’t until Seton Hall’s second 8-0 run of the second half that they would pull away from a Hawai’i team that couldn’t crack their defensive shell.

Powell hit a long three to cap off that run to go up 55-44 at the final media timeout, and then Sandro Mamukelashvili (8 pts, 9 rebs) hit a corner three after Hawai’i kept knocking, which was ultimately enough to get Seton Hall over the line.

Three observations (and one)

When Myles Powell isn’t firing on all cylinders (like most of tonight), Seton Hall needs to find its inside-out game. 30 minutes into the game, it struck me how despite the ability to score in the paint, the Hall hasn’t utilized their inside-out game enough this year, which comes along with better ball movement. Pirates not named Powell are ()k from three this year — which has to improve once better looks are produced.

Hawai’i isn’t an offensive juggernaut, but they had scored 90 against Utah and 80+ in four of their five games coming into this one. That said, just 24 hours after playing Grand Canyon, Seton Hall put on an impressive defensive display which yielded a handful of forced turnovers, especially in the first half. Guys like Jared Rhoden, Myles Cale, and Taurean Thompson were particularly active in the lane as Kevin Willard rolled out several defensive looks yet again.

Seton Hall gets Saturday off before clashing with Miami on Sunday. Get your coffee ready (again), because this will be another tip past 10PM eastern time. The Hurricanes (5-0) just edged Fresno State earlier today after crushing La Salle, and should be the best team the Hall has faced this year, beating out Nebraska for that title.

Two subtleties of the matchup take place off the court: this is the first meeting between the two since 2004 and assistant coach Tony Carr will be going up against his former coach at George Mason in Jim Larranaga.

Anthony Nelson played well in limited action. The lefty dished five assists in just 13 minutes during which Seton Hall was +9. Only Powell and Sandro (+10) had a better +/- tonight. Willard gushed about him post-game, see below.

Quotes from Kevin Willard courtesy of AM970

On playing such a late game: “I can’t remember the last time besides emergencies, I can’t remember the last time I saw 1:40 (am) on the clock. Maybe I woke up because my kids were sick, maybe I had to go to the bathroom. This is a unique experience. There’s no way this body works well (at 1:40). I’m so proud of this team, because they were dead tired. It’s hard to be on east coast time. Kids are used to staying up late, but your body isn’t used to functioning at a high level. That’s a good Hawai’i team that put up 90 points yesterday.”

On shutting down Brocke Stepteau (scored 24 vs Utah): “They still got us a couple times, but that’s all we spent time on today. The two or three different ways we were going to defend that (guard) action. It was really good, the guys just focused in and understood this is what we’re going to give up. We said this is the shot we’re going to give up, this is the shot we don’t want to give up. And we gave up the shots we actually wanted to give up.”

On Anthony Nelson (unprompted, was speaking about defense): “And I thought Anthony Nelson’s five minute stretch in the second half, that’s what I expect to see. I’m getting on him a lot and he’s not used to getting yelled at, but I know that’s there (his potential) … He was huge, he was awesome. He has such good vision, he makes really good decisions, it’s about making those decisions and he defended well. With him, it’s like ‘Defend and your ability on offense really helps us.’ We score when he’s in the game because he’s got a great feel of finding guys.”

Speaking about Taurean Thompson making strides: “He was aggressive attacking the rim. And when he does that, I don’t think there’s anybody that can stop him, I really don’t … There’s times where he just settles for those jump shots. When he gets more comfortable and understands he can drive against just about any big, I think you’ll see more of those stretches … And then he’ll step out for the three. He does have that ability, it’s just getting him in rhythm and getting him to know which one to take and which ones not to take … I think he’s getting more confidence in that he can take anybody and score on anybody going to the rim.”

Some irrelevant tangent at 2AM to close the interview:

“I don’t what I’m talking about.”

(Asked if going to Disney)

“Gary you know me now for a long time. You know I don’t like crowds and you know I don’t like people.”

(Does that affect recruits? Jokingly.)

“No, I love my recruits. Recruiting is different. Those are my family I’m going after. I’m talking about people. Masses and masses of people. Did you see how many people were in the elevator the other day? Everyone had their (Mickey) ears on and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Of all the places you can go…” I hope we’re not sponsored by them. We might be, because of FOX. I love Disney. Yes, I’m going to Disneyland, I’m riding the Tower of Terror. I’m doing the whole nine yards tomorrow.”

“We should start a podcast at 2AM once a year, (titled) ‘Willard’s up past–‘ my wife even said it, I can’t believe you’re up past 10:30. I said neither can I, I don’t see past 10:30.”